There was good news to be found in Bulletin reporter Elon Glucklich’s article on the Deschutes County jobs market that appeared in Sunday’s paper. Total employment in the county is now nearly what it was in 2005. At 65,000 jobs in July 2013, it’s still noticeably below the 70,730 jobs here in June 2008, but also noticeably above the 60,820 jobs here in 2010.
Employment in educational and health services led the current growth, jumping up nearly 40 percent since 2005. The change is a reflection of changes in the region in the last eight years — our population is aging, among other things.
Yet the jobs report is not all bright.
Jobs are returning, to be sure, but too many of them are either part time or pay relatively low wages. Leisure and hospitality jobs, housekeepers, reservation desk attendants and others, fall into that category. So, too, do many jobs in the health care industry — medications aides, in-home care providers and others make only slightly more than minimum wage.
What have disappeared, unfortunately, are jobs in the manufacturing sector, construction and other areas where wages are relatively high.
There’s no way of knowing if high-end jobs will pick up in the months ahead, but anyone interested in a healthy Central Oregon should hope so. This is a region that long has had trouble diversifying its economy, and while the situation is far better than it was 50 years ago, work remains to be done.
Deschutes County, and with it Crook and Jefferson counties, need employers who do not rely on the annual influx of tourists or on a housing boom that will, as they have done in the past, implode with the next economic downturn. We need widget makers who pay $15 per hour and jobs that pay parents enough to raise families on — so kids can take the $8.95-an-hour fast-food jobs.
Getting that sort of diversity takes work, not only on the part of the Economic Development for Central Oregon group, but from communities and those who live within them, as well. It takes flexibility in helping new businesses locate here and an awareness that EDCO cannot do the job by itself.
Glucklich’s article Sunday was good news after what’s been a five-year stretch in the economic doldrums. Further diversity will only improve it.